Today on March 29, 1974, Chinese farmers accidentally stumbled upon fragments of the Terracotta Warriors — one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in history.
While digging a water well east of Xi'an — the capital of Shaanxi Province in central China — farmers uncovered initial fragments of the massive underground complex known as Pit One. Two more pits were eventually discovered while excavating around the original complex. A museum has since been constructed over the largest pit and is now fully enclosed for tourists to enjoy. In 1987, UNESCO officially designated the complex as a World Cultural Heritage Site. Former French President Jacques Chirac praised the Terracotta Army as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World' in 1987.
The Terracotta Warriors are a vast collection of sculptures depicting the great armies of Qin Shi Huang — the first emperor of China. Over 2,200 years ago, Qin Shi Huang became the first ruler to unite the seven kingdoms of China under a centralized government. The sculptures are part of a greater necropolis dedicated to Qin Shi Huang — a term used to describe a large cemetery with elaborate tombs and monuments. The emperor commissioned the Terracotta Army during the late third century BCE. The army was to be buried alongside their ruler with the sole purpose of protecting him in the afterlife. Earlier rulers from the Shang and Zhou dynasties were buried alongside real human sacrifices, whereas Qin Shi Huang sought to avoid such unnecessary deaths.
The Terracotta Warriors represent the real army that Qin Shi Huang used to conquer the Warring States of China. The collection consists of more than 8,000 soldiers, 150 cavalrymen, and 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses. It also contains several non-military figures, such as government officials, acrobats, and musicians. Several species of birds have also been found, including ducks, cranes, and waterfowl. The sculptures were created over a long forty-year period. Modern estimates suggest over 700,000 artisans and laborers would have been needed to produce the entire collection. Laborers during this period certainly did not have access to any advanced tools or equipment; thus, the army was slowly crafted through blood, sweat, and tears.
The process of constructing the statues was rather intricate. The heads, torsos, and limbs were all constructed first, then sent to the funeral chamber for final assembly. The life-sized figures range from 175-190 centimeters tall. Amazingly, no two figures are exactly the same. Every statue offers unique gestures and facial expressions. Each was also stamped with the name of the artisan who built it. Unfortunately, this was not to give anyone credit for their hard work, but rather, to trace back any imperfections to the appropriate person.
Today, more than five million tourists flock to gaze upon the impressive Terracotta Warriors. Many of the ancient sculptures have yet to be unearthed. Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum — covering nearly 56 square kilometers — will require many more years to finish excavating. But the greatest mystery of all has yet to be revealed: the emperor's tomb remains to be unopened.